Categories
poetry

Freedom Day

Freedom Day!

Sweat at the club

against all the other

unvaccinated or semi-vaccinated youths,

but don’t go to France

unless you have ten days to spare afterwards,

because the Beta variant

that makes up three percent of cases

will get you

(including those islands

in the middle of the Indian Ocean

that we’d never even heard of

until last week).

Maybe we’d never even heard of them

because they’re not as troubled as Madagascar-

maybe they have roads

but no lemurs to film.

Maybe they’re not as rich as the Seychelles

or the Maldives

the island paradise(s)

oases

full of tiki huts

and smiling locals

grateful for your money

oh, so grateful-

as they pile the debris

of your single-use plastic

water bottles and sun cream

onto an island in the middle of the sea

to burn

out of sight, out of mind.

No, the Beta variant is dangerous,

oh, so dangerous,

we say

with no hint of irony

that we gifted the world Alpha

incubated Delta

then unleashed it on Europe

harbingers of doom

from our rocky little isle.

Maybe nobody looked at those figures-

Reunion Island is an insignificant speck, after all.

A speck that nobody checked.

Are we still supposed to believe

that any one of them knows

or has ever known

what they were doing?

Doesn’t it all feel like politics to you?

Point-scoring like Eurovision,

dick-swinging like Brexit

with a touch of European Championship machismo:

“You’re high-risk”

“You’re higher-risk”

“No, YOU’RE higher risk”

UK-vaccinated passengers avoid quarantine.

Yes, you heard that right, UK-vaccinated

even though it’s the same stuff.

Our airports would be overwhelmed, they say,

we wouldn’t be able to cope

we’re actively working on a solution

but we expect that Brits can

go off to Benidorm and Kos

and cook themselves

a fetching shade of lobster pink

while we turn our nose up at

EU QR codes

and airlines are gasping

absolutely gasping

for footfall.

Categories
poetry

The New Normal

Don’t make plans-

you can’t make plans

too much is uncertain

but you should learn to live with

the new normal.

Masks aren’t law

anymore

but you should definitely

maybe

think about wearing them

in all places,

most places,

or even some places.

Let’s not cower from this

he says

smugly-

the man with the mild symptoms

and the features of a bat

beams from the window of his

North London home.

He must have walked past the mural

of one hundred and thirty thousand hearts

and counting.

It’s the 2021 equivalent of saying

my granddad smoked fifty a day

and then lived

to the ripe old age of ninety-three,

so it can’t be all that bad for you,

or not as bad as they say.

Who’s ‘they’?

Who knows?

Get Covid and live longer!

Shake hands with them all

write your dissertation

from your parent’s sofa

summer school on Zoom

forget that your classmates (almost always)

have legs

or knees

or anything below their shoulders, really,

and three whole dimensions.

Categories
German Translations

Living Between Two Languages

Here’s my self-translation of my previous blog post:

Living between Two Languages

Do I bring a language to life? Or do I inhabit it? Can the same be said for a learned language? The term ‘Mother tongue’ is outdated, that we already know. I did, however, grow up with one language until I chose my second. I’m not sure whether this fact makes my relationship to German more or less meaningful. Before Year 9, I had absolutely no connection to German. But I chose it anyway. An artificial decision, yes. Meaningful all the same. 

As I wrote those first two questions, it became painfully obvious to me how difficult they would be to translate. Maybe even impossible. No matter what I choose, the English words will only ever be a pale shadow of what I wrote first. I’ve shot myself in the foot there. I’m a translator, a teacher, obsessed with words. How languages overlap one another, reflect one another, but never line up exactly. Because that never works. Because it’s always a fantasy. Translation is the endless acquisition of all the possibilities of how to put similar thoughts into words in two or more languages. Similar but never the same. A translation is an echo, a subjective re-writing. 

How much space can two languages take up? Is it endless, could I add more and more languages, like sailing until I reach the horizon? Or is there a limit? Would something eventually slip out the other side as I shove more and more in? I’ve found it difficult to commit myself to a third language. I’ve tried Russian, as well as French and Norwegian. But nothing sticks. Nothing has left the same indelible, intangible imprint as German.

My second language is learned. My existence split in two, the other half of me is learned. I’ve often been asked why I chose it. Why German, of all languages? Germans can all speak English, can’t they? (no). Do you have German relatives? German roots? (no). It was a simple choice between German and French at school, I say. But I know it’s probably not the whole truth. The truth is always much more complicated than you think. I’ve never been sure what my truth is in this respect. Yes, why German?

We belong to the same family. The further you go back in the past, the more similar the two languages become, German and English, English and German. The same extraction, the same roots. You just don’t see it these days waiting at the pedestrian crossing; the man is lit a steady red, and the British walk, unhurried, out into the road in front of an accelerating taxi. 

Maybe it was, for me, rather an exercise in vanity. I didn’t want to be like ‘all’ other Brits. I didn’t just want to live in one language, that felt too blinkered. The word is full of endless possibility for self-expression. Had I only been able to express myself in one language, I would always have wondered to myself: what am I missing? Still, as a bilingual, I’m far removed from the world’s most proficient linguists.

German still doesn’t come as easily to me as English. I speak and write like no German. Some would call it a deficiency, a failure— my not-quite-mastery. But I like to keep my flaws. Is there not room for an endless variety of Germans in the word, just as there’s an endless variety of Englishes? The English brought their language on slave and pilgrim ships and thought they could master the world as you ‘master’ a language. But now English belongs to everybody who learns or grows up with English. It doesn’t just belong to the English anymore. 

When I started writing today, I was intending to send it to my German friend, so that he could check it for flaws and mistakes. But now I’ve decided against it. The flaws can stay. They’re signposts along a long trail behind me, breadcrumbs of the years of patience and frustration, like the rings in a tree, layers built up over layers. My German was rootless, but now it’s laid down roots.

It’s strange to think about how this square, angular, spiked language is rejecting me. After Brexit, while COVID marches forwards, in this new, dystopian era: I’m not allowed in. Absolute travel ban to contain the Delta variant. In the last six months, there was a window of six days in which I could legally have travelled to Germany. I missed this window, of course.

I had the naive, childish hope that everything would progressively get better, and that I’d be able to see my partner this summer. But my German half is still in its extended winter hibernation. Re-book those flights, just once more, and again. We can make it one more month, then another, and another. I can’t hear the Odenwald dialect anymore, melodic, half-swallowed, rising and falling in my ears, the words falling over each other whilst I strain to catch his grandpa’s gist. He doesn’t understand me either, although I try to say my German as German as possible.

So what does German mean to me? I’ve already spent two years of my adulthood there. I’m young, but I see my future there. Lower rents, Freiluftlust, muesli with yoghurt. German means building a firepit on the terrace, breakfast on wooden boards, breadbasket in the middle of the table. German means warm evenings in the beer garden on rough benches. Just don’t lose your balance. It means sunsets over the trees behind the house, watching how the colours bleach and blend and the pines turn to shadow, black teeth against the night sky. It means pulling Bollerwagen through festival puddles as Hurricane proves its name. My partner smiling as I stick a jumble of words together, as I test the limits of this Lego-language, trying to express the intricacies of my feelings in exactly this moment. Today I called him unmitbestreitbar. Un-arguable-with.

I have to keep asking what a pine cone is called in Odenwäldisch. Or maybe it’s just called something different in his village, I forget that too. Hussmouge. I find it funny every time, before I forget it again. Why funny? Maybe because it’s so antithetical to the standard German Tannenzapfle. Maybe because it’s so specific to have a completely different word for something that so often lies unnoticed on the forest floor, trampled, or is ripped apart by village kids so they can get at the sweet-bitter nuts inside. I’ve almost forgotten the smell of moss under pines, how the ferns slowly unroll over the spring months, and how you develop your mushroom vision if you look long and hard enough. Endless degrees of brown and green.

Separation is an endless exercise in waiting, hesitation, deferral, refresh the website, book then re-book and cancel, read the restrictions, mandatory quarantine or not? Vaccination passport, proof of test, green-amber-red list. I spend my days at my desk and translate from German, but I haven’t ever felt further away from it.